There was an interesting article published in the Somerset County Gazette at the end of August (here), announcing that the police had cautioned an ’employee’ of the Chargot Estate (in the Exmoor National Park) for animal welfare offences.
This case involved an illegally-set crow cage trap that had been covertly filmed by investigators from Animal Aid in May and June this year. During a period of 44.5hrs of continuous filming, the trap was visted four times by an unnamed individual. However, the trap was illegally-set because although it was baited with food, there was no provision for water, shelter or perches for the trapped birds, and it was also being operated unlawfully because the trapped pheasant (a non-target species) should have been immediately released when discovered – these are all breaches of the General Licence.
[Photo of the illegally-set trap, by Animal Aid]
The Animal Aid investigators gave the footage to the police who then cautioned an estate employee. According to Animal Aid’s version of events (here), this individual was a gamekeeper. But according to a quote in the Somerset County Gazette from the Chargot Estate Managing Director Gwyn Evans:
“I do not condone what the employee has done; he has been disciplined. The employee in question is not a gamekeeper, he is a farm worker, and was acting in his own time without the knowledge of the estate.”
Hmm. That’s hard to believe. But let’s assume for a minute that the person operating this trap during that period was an unauthorised farmworker. Are we honestly expected to believe that none of the estate’s gamekeepers (and according to this sales briefing from Oct 2017 the estate employs five of them full time) or any other estate employee didn’t notice this trap being used? It’s not exactly inconspicuous, is it? And even if the trap was the responsibility of one of those gamekeepers but it wasn’t supposed to be in use, that gamekeeper has also breached the conditions of the General Licence because when a trap isn’t in use it is supposed to be rendered incapable of holding or catching birds or other animals by either securing the door fully open or removing it all together.
Apart from the all too familiar question ‘Why did the police decide to caution, not prosecute?’ for blatant trap misuse, there are wider implications from this case.
The Chargot Estate, often referred to as ‘iconic’ and ‘prestigious’, is listed on the Guns on Pegs website (a ‘shoot-finding’ service) as being ‘proud to be a ‘BGA assured shoot’:
The BGA is the recently-established British Game Alliance, a desperate attempt by the game shooting industry to be seen to be self-regulating and demonstrating best practice. We’ve blogged about it recently as it hasn’t got off to the best start (see here and here).
We checked to see whether Chargot was actually listed as a BGA member, and yes, it is:
And here’s what the BGA says about its criteria for accepting shoots as a BGA member:
So according to the BGA, all its members have agreed to abide by the BGA’s Shoot Standards and ‘are leading the way with a forward-thinking approach and should be praised as early adopters of self-regulation‘.
Here’s what those BGA shoot standards say about the use of traps:
So according to the BGA’s own terms and conditions, the Chargot shoot has not adhered to the law on trapping. Does that mean Chargot’s membership of the BGA will now be revoked? Probably not, because if you look at #19 of the BGA’s shoot standards, it says shoots will be expelled and their membership revoked ‘where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes‘.
In this case, not only could the estate argue that the individual who received the police caution was not a ‘shoot employee’ (because they claim he was a farmworker), but also the employee was not prosecuted – the police chose to issue a caution instead.
Loopholes, eh? If there’s one to be found, you can always rely upon the game-shooting industry to exploit it.
It remains to be seen whether the British Game Alliance will take any action against the Chargot shoot or whether it’ll just turn a blind eye and allow Chargot to continue to enjoy the benefits of being listed as a member.
Along with several other questionable BGA member shoots, Chargot is feted as ‘having demonstrated high standards through best practice in all areas from animal welfare to game handling’ even though it’s been at the centre of a police investigation for wildlife crime / animal welfare offences resulting in an employee receiving a police caution.
Is this a ‘credible assurance scheme‘, as the British Game Alliance claims? Clearly not.
UPDATE 7th June 2022: Chargot Estate in Exmoor National Park under police investigation, again, for alleged illegal trapping and killing of birds (here)